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January/February 2002

Jimmy Witherspoon
Blue Spoon/Spoon in London
Prestige

This twofer, combining recordings from 1964 and 1965, finds the profoundly blue Mr. Witherspoon in fine voice but in radically different settings. The 10 tracks from Blue Spoon are distinguished not only by the regal pipes and magnificent soul of Witherspoon himself but also for the bluesy presence of guitarist Kenny Burrell and the hip swinging of drummer Roy Haynes. Highlights here include Spoon's restrained testifying on ballads like "I Wonder," "For Old Time's Sake" and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" along with his earthy shouting on the jump blues "It's a Low Down Dirty Shame" and the slow "Blues in the Morning" (both featuring some slick brushwork by Haynes). The material from Spoon in London is brash and corny by comparison. An obvious nod to rock's British Invasion that had swept across America by 1965, this oddity is chockfull of jangling guitars, tambourine, a chirping female-vocal group called the Ladybirds and other mod trappings. Benny Golson's orchestral arrangements are effective on the Basiesque "Free Spirits" but hopelessly dated on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In-styled fare like "Love Me Right" and "Man Don't Cry," two groovy numbers that might've fit comfortably on the Austin Powers soundtrack. What a difference a year makes!

Originally published in January/February 2002
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